Tag Archive | "Andrew Caplen"

Legal aid restrictions


The government has loosened a controversial restriction preventing some victims of domestic abuse from accessing legal aid.

Domestic abuse victims currently have to provide evidence that abuse has taken place within the past 24 months in order to qualify for legal aid. A technical provision in the civil legal aid (procedure) regulations 2012 meant that when cases reached a final hearing, legal aid could be withdrawn if the evidence was considered to be out of date.

Having listened to concerns from representative groups, a spokesperson for the MoJ said the government was “absolutely clear that victims of domestic violence must receive legal aid in order to break free from abusive relationships.” He added: “Ministers have agreed to amend the rules so that victims of domestic violence can be confident they will receive the support they need.”

Law Society president Andrew Caplen expressed pleasure that the government had fixed ‘this unconsidered technicality’. The change follows intense lobbying by the Law Society and other practitioner groups. The Society argued that it could not have been parliament’s intention to grant legal aid initially only for it to be withdrawn in the middle of proceedings.

Another set of legal aid restrictions is now the subject of an action before the court of appeal. The restrictions delay prisoners’ rehabilitation and mean that thousands of prisoners are being prevented from starting rehabilitation because they are denied legal aid for parole board hearings.

Concerns over the removal of legal aid from internal prison hearings have focused on problems that inmates have in moving to open prisons so they can begin courses that pave the way to eventual release. It particularly affects prisoners serving indeterminate sentences.

The appeal, brought jointly by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service, argues that taxpayers are now having to pay to keep prisoners inside for longer than is necessary. According to the charities’ submission, without a move to open conditions a standard indeterminate-sentence prisoner will almost certainly never be released.

The barrister representing the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoner Advisory service, said that all areas of prison law have been removed from the scope of legal aid in what amounts to a systematic unfairness.
She said: “Many prisoners cannot access the process themselves. Prisoners live in a closed world. They can’t access outside resources. They can’t go to the Citizens Advice Bureau. The complaints systems and the ombudsman system do not provide the fairness that is lacking [in the current system].”

She added that there was no provision for funding in exceptional cases. “There’s no flexibility here. Nothing can be done.”

The Legal Aid Agency argues, Kafka-like, that inmates who have not yet served their sentence tariff are not entitled to legal aid because their liberty is not at stake. The Ministry of Justice maintains that the internal prison complaints system and the prisons ombudsman are capable of dealing with the problem. That remains to be seen.

The court of appeal reserved judgment.

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Gove to challenge the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system”


In a speech given today at the Legatum Institute, justice secretary Michael Gove said that there will be further court closures as he seeks to build a more efficient and streamlined justice system.

The government is reviewing the existing court estate and will shut those that are not running close to capacity. The government closed 142 courts in the last parliament. “It makes more sense to deliver a more efficient court estate than, for example, make further big changes to the legal aid system,’ he said. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Gove doesn’t care either: Next steps for the criminal legal aid market


Yesterday Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid, presented a written statement to the House of Commons to confirm next steps for the criminal legal aid market.

He said: “There is a pressing need to ensure our criminal justice system performs more efficiently” and “there is no doubt we still have a generous system compared to other countries. The continuing need to reduce the deficit means that we must make further progress. We must secure greater efficiencies whilst maintaining a high quality service and guaranteeing that everyone accused of a crime has the same access to a legal aid lawyer as they do now.” Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

No appeal


When the Court of Appeal gave the go-ahead for the government’s controversial legal aid reforms by dismissing an appeal by the Law Society and practitioner groups, and refused to extend an injunction suspending the tender process, the Law Society and the Associations said that they would seek to lodge an application with the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and get the application heard Monday of this week.

An injunction suspending the tendering process for 527 duty provider contracts expired after the Court of Appeal refused to extend it until Monday while the Society sought to take its case to the Supreme Court.

Now there has been a change of plan. The Law Society has announced that it has decided not to take its fight to the Supreme Court.

Society president Andrew Caplen said: “Our counsel’s advice is that the recent judgment is robust and an appeal most unlikely to be granted. We have therefore taken the difficult decision not to apply to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal.”
The tender process, which had been suspended since December, has now been reopened and will close at midday on 5 May.

Caplen said the Society had great reservations about the new duty solicitor contractual arrangements and would call on the new government to review them urgently after the election.

He said: “Individual firms will need to make their own decisions on whether to bid for contracts. We will continue to support solicitors throughout the process.”

The Society has issued guidance for firms wishing to set up delivery partnerships.

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Defeat in the Court of Appeal


The Court of Appeal today gave the go-ahead for the government’s controversial legal aid reforms by dismissing an appeal by the Law Society and practitioner groups.

In the words of the judgement: “In view of the rational and lawful evaluation of the consultation responses made by the Lord Chancellor, it was not incumbent on him to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.

The judgment concluded that the lord chancellor was rationally entitled to assess that the “admittedly broad brush approach” he adopted at the end of March 2014 in relation to costs of bidding for duty provider contracts was a reasonable one. On the process of consulting with service providers – the basis of last year’s High Court challenge – the Court of Appeal said “it was not incumbent on [the lord chancellor] to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.”

The Court of Appeal refused to extend an injunction suspending the tender process. The Law Society and the Associations are seeking to lodge an application with the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and get the application heard on Monday. The injunction expires today.

Society president Andrew Caplen said: “The Court of Appeal decision is a devastating blow. We remain concerned that vulnerable people may not be able to obtain legal representation if they are accused of wrongdoing.”

Robin Murray, vice-chair of the CLSA, said; “It is a matter of enormous disappointment that the appeal brought by the Associations and The Law Society has been defeated.” Jonathan Black, president of the LCCSA, said the group was ‘gutted’ by this morning’s decision. He said: “While the appeal court has found the devastating carve-up of solicitor representation is technically legal, we and many others believe it’s immoral. We’ll do everything we can to continue the fight.”

The Legal Aid Agency has issued a statement that: “ Following the Court of Appeal’s decision today that the Duty Provider Contract tender process and consultation are lawful, the Invitation to Tender for those organisations eligible to apply for a Duty Provider Contract will continue on Friday 27 March 2015 and will close at 12 noon on Tuesday 5 May 2015.

“Now that the injunction has been lifted and the tender will continue, and we have set a new deadline for tender applications. The closing date for applications has been amended to maintain an overall nine week tender window for this stage of the procurement process. Work under this contract is now due to start on 11 January 2016.”

There was never much doubt that the lord chancellor would press ahead with his plans if he was successful in the Court of Appeal. This is a subject which is close up and personal after the many rebuffs he has received from appeal courts. Purdah will have been far from his mind. A close run thing, the statutory period for tenders of nine weeks expires just two days before election day. So it will be for the incoming administration whether or not to proceed. The Labour party has said it would abandon the contracts if elected.

The full text of the judgement Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCA Civ 230 can be found at:
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/law-society-v-lord-chancellor-judgment.pdf

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Justice committee criticises civil legal aid cuts


When examined by the House of Commons public accounts committee, leading civil servants at the Ministry of Justice admitted that they did not have the time to research the potential impact of cuts to legal aid included in LAPSO. Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan confessed “The piece of evidence that was overwhelming was the level of spending. The evidence required was that government said we wish to cut the legal aid bill.”

Committee chair Margaret Hodge accused the department of ‘endemic failure’. “The thing that really distressed me is how you embarked on this with so little evidence,” she said. “When you were changing the rules you had no idea the impact it would have.” Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Legal Aid Judicial Review


A last-ditch challenge to the lord chancellor’s legal aid reforms was thrown out by the High Court on Tuesday. The Law Society and practitioner groups are seeking an appeal.

Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston heard challenges last month by the Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) to Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Government consultation process ruled ‘so unfair as to result in illegality’


Mr Justice Burnett was as good as his word. At the end of the judicial review hearing he said he hoped to have judgment ready ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘all being well’ by the end of the month. Last Friday saw his judgement.

And what a judgement. Referring to two economic reports, one from Otterburn Consulting and the other from accountants KPMG, he said: “In the context, in particular, of a decision which would so profoundly affect the way in which the market in criminal legal aid operates, indeed pose a threat to the continued existence of many practices, in my judgment it was indeed unfair to refuse to allow those engaged in the consultation process to comment upon the two reports. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Public opposition to legal aid cuts


Public opposition to legal aid cuts is hardening, with fewer than one in four now backing the government’s austerity drive, according to an opinion poll released last week to mark the service’s 65th anniversary.

Since coming to power in 2010, ministers at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have had a clear agenda of wanting to cut the legal aid budget as part of the government’s programme to reduce the public spending deficit. In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 introduced a radical reduction in the type of cases covered by the civil legal aid scheme. Read the full story

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Solicitors will close


Last month Hampshire solicitor Andrew Caplen took office as the 170th president of the Law Society. The new president said access to justice and the preservation of legal aid are his priorities for the year ahead.

He said: “Under my leadership, the Law Society will re-focus on access to justice and will continue to fight the erosion of legal aid. I have spent the last 20 years fighting against the cuts, so I know what this is all about, I have lived it. Access to justice ensures the basic functioning of our democratic society, and is what enticed many of us to become lawyers.” Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)


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